A Day of Promise Dashed
Yesterday was the day the Bush administration through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was to release new regulations for welfare. WRI students and other advocates were hopeful that HHS had used the review of welfare regulations as an opportunity to expand needed access to education and job training.
The newspaper stories carried the warped perspective that has been indicative of reporting on social policy in the last decade. Instead of discussing how these important regulations will affect the economy in every state, the press primarily repeated the President's rhetoric about the regulations, in which some individual case or instance is dangled as a red herring rationale for "cracking down" and our collective consciousness is reminded of welfare stereotypes.
As a DMI fellow working on education and welfare policy, I had an opportunity to put our positive policy message about access to education and training out on the radio waves. One show host asked about the illustration of a work activity that the President had put forth. I spent precious little airtime addressing such obscure examples; instead, spoke about the last ten years and how the states have been welfare laboratories. There has not been the government data collecting and research that was warranted by the 1996 change in welfare law but advocates and people receiving welfare have been forging programs in various states that showed promise in opening access to the knowledge, skills, degrees and credentials that people need to move from welfare into sustainable, family-supporting jobs.
Even though HHS decided not release the rules until later today, I was able to see a copy of the regulations late Wednesday. As I did a quick review of the 139 pages of rules, it was clear the administration had misspent their opportunity. I will be writing about the various rules over the next month during the public comment period for these regulations. A few things are clear right now; this administration has dashed the opportunities that the states have been working to expand.
For example, the documents reprimands states that classified learning English as a Second Language in two categories of work activity. Clearly, these states wanted to give people the time they needed to complete programs that would allow them to obtain jobs. We know speaking English is an essential skill. But now the rules will be changed so that states can only count six weeks of ESL in one category. To what end is this administration keeping people from gaining language skills? ESL is important for people speaking Spanish, Russian and Chinese, just to name a few. I do not know about you, but it would take me considerably longer than six weeks to learn Chinese.
I am dismayed at the disingenuousness that surrounds this important public policy. I believe these regulations left unchallenged and unaltered are a crushing blow to the students I work with and the people around the nation who deeply value education as a route out of poverty. As daunting as all of this sounds, the Indomitable students and their allies will prevail in the end.